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Cong gets allies’ support on Indo-US nuclear deal

However, UPA constituents say parting of ways with the Left on the issue could weaken the secular challenge to “communal forces”. HT Political Bureau reports. Who stands where
By HT Political Bureau | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 20, 2008 03:12 AM IST

The UPA’s coalition partners came out in strong defence of the government on the India-US nuclear deal on Thursday, even as they expressed apprehensions — evident also in the Congress — that a bitter parting of ways with the Left parties on the issue could weaken the secular challenge to “communal forces” before and after the elections.

A day after the UPA-Left meeting to sort out differences over the deal was deferred till June 25, the ruling coalition allies held hectic consultations among themselves while also keeping in touch with the communists in a bid to find a way out of the imbroglio.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s 13 Talkatora residence became a hub of activity. Among the late-night callers was CPM’s Sitaram Yechury. Sources said the meeting failed to break the stalemate. Mukherjee is believed to have rejected the Left’s suggestion that while going to atomic watchdog IAEA, the government should also publicly say that it would not sign the 123 agreement. At the time of going to press, Mukherjee was engaged in discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

At various points in time during the day, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, RJD’s Lalu Yadav and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan also visited Mukherjee to discuss the latest turn of events that threatens to create a situation where the ruling party has to assess the political implications — including early Lok Sabha polls — of pushing for the deal without the Left on board.

Lalu said the nuclear deal was necessary for the country’s development and that it would be unfortunate if it fell through. The railways minister — who met Yechury on Thursday — told HT that he had impressed on the Left leaders that such an opportunity (of signing the deal) would not come India’s way again. He felt the government was unlikely to fall but added, “We are all preparing for elections, anyway.”

Pressed about the possible timing of the elections, Lalu said, "It would not be held in the rainy season."

In an indication of how the nuclear issue would play out on the ground, Lalu linked the deal with bread and butter issues: "Governments come and go, but assets must be created for the next generation." He said instead of bickering, leaders must sit together and resolve issues with a cool head, adding: "We need both (the deal and the Left)".

Pawar also wanted the Left view on the nuclear question to be taken into consideration. "We are with the Congress on this issue, but committed to address the concerns of other supporters," Pawar told HT.

NCP spokesman DP Tripathi said it "was difficult but not impossible" to operationalise the deal by working out a consensus of all UPA supporters including the Left. PMK leader Ambumani Ramdoss, whose party is now out of the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu, said his party was "entirely with the Congress" on the nuclear deal. The DMK has already extended unconditional support to the deal.

With the allies coming out in support of the Congress and the government even while emphasizing the need for keeping the Left on board, the ruling party, as part of the consultative process, could call a meeting of the Congress Working Committee and of the UPA coordination panel.

A year ago, allies had rallied behind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue in the same manner. This occasion, the UPA constituents -- as also a section within the Congress -- remain plagued with fears that an acrimonious split with the Left might help consolidate the communal forces, while damaging the long-term interests of the secular grouping in an era of coalition politics.

Theories in circulation include one suggesting that SP might bail out the government if the Left withdraws support. SP leader Rashid Masood said his party "would support whatever cause was good for the country".

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